Organic, biodynamic and natural are all descriptors you have probably seen on wine labels. They may even make you feel like you’re drinking sustainably – after all, if something is organic, shouldn’t it help the Earth?

Like organic food, though, these labels tend to be misunderstood. Not all of these definitions are regulated, and those with protocol can still be unclear by time the bottle makes it to you. Wine labels are notorious for being vague, so it might be true that the only thing natural about the wine you just purchased is the grapes that went into making it.

As climate change becomes an increasingly important topic and consumers more frequently turn to brands and products dedicated to sustainability, wine is a category being seen under more scrutiny – and it’s been a long time coming.

Making environmentally conscious decisions with wine purchasing first means having an understanding of the (somewhat nondescript) terms associated with natural wine. According to Wine Folly:

  • Natural wine can be seen as “wine unplugged.” While it has no regulated definition, they “are known for their funkier, gamier, yeastier characteristics and a cloudy appearance. They are often much less fruity and much yeastier in their aroma profile than a typical wine, smelling almost like yoghurt or German Hefeweizen.”
  • Organic Wine, most simply, is wines produced with organic grapes. This requires wine producers to implement a unique set of growing practices to maintain organic wines. The dilemma with organic wine, though, comes from different definitions of organic across countries and the many additives that are still allowed in organic wines.
  • Biodynamic Wine is “a holistic view of agriculture,” based off the concept that everything in the universe is interconnected, including the moon, planets and stars. Biodynamic viticulture is the practice of balancing this resonance between vine, man, earth and stars.” Deemed new age and hippy-dippy by some, it’s in fact the oldest, anti-chemical agricultural movement and follows a special biodynamic calendar.

As the definitions show, these terms don’t imply sustainable wine production. A wine producer may be biodynamic, but also engage in other practices that increase their carbon output – and it’s not always clear to the consumer without thorough research.

For those vested in sustainable wine choices, the research may prove worth it. One growing practice in wine production is biodiversity, where producers protect natural resources and encourage a variety of lifeforms within the natural habitat. In Bordeaux, for example, wine producers have worked to attract bats within the vineyard. The bats feed on grape tortix, small moths that devastate the vines, and this shapes the vineyard into its own miniature habitat.

But for those (read: most of us), who are looking to do their part where they can, one easy way to contribute is by choosing lighter wine bottles while shopping for wine. A study conducted by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance said that packaging is one of four key areas that wineries can do the most to cut their carbon footprint.

Though there is much more to accomplish for the wine industry to make an impact in sustainability, asking questions as a consumer and reading deeper into the label is one place to start.